Tom Ashbrook on his approach to interviewing
“When you are completely in the moment of live radio, it seems like heroin”, so exclaimed the host of WBUR’s On Point, Tom Ashbrook. The journalist said his ideal is achieving “ecstatic insight” during his live two-hour radio program, distributed by NPR and airing in Boston from 10 a.m. – noon weekdays and repeated 7-9 weeknights.
Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 20, more than 60 students and faculty members heard how live radio interviewing is like dancing with a guest, when “your lead is pretty strong”, but you need to pay attention to your partner and be careful to listen and not run anyone over. Ashbrook’s visit was coordinated by Prof. Susan Walker as part of journalist Andrea Kremer‘s class “The Art of Interviewing.”
The On Point radio program is put together with none of the questions written in advance, but admittedly a lot of preparation and research, demonstrated by piles of papers on Ashbrook’s studio desk. The program was born out of the 9/11 attacks but now covers two topics daily- anything from asteroids to adoptions, whiskey to heat, provoking what Ashbrook hopes will be a national conversation.
His advice, “treat all with respect”, “channel the audience by asking questions they would want to know”, “push forward”, “maintain a command presence” “engage your head and your heart” and, during this multi-tasking, complex, two-hour live juggler job, “live in the moment, being mindful”.
Ashbrook is also an author, a former editor with The Boston Globe, and spent 10 years reporting from abroad, mostly in Asia. He concluded that when you know different places, you know what’s going on, pay attention and care, you will “develop a sense of what matters”.